Belize trip report (rather long)

Old Sep 24th, 2005, 11:52 AM
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Belize trip report (rather long)

I had a fantastic trip to Belize in August, and have finally gotten around to writing a report. I received so much help from this and other boards, I just had to post it here. We had 13 fabulous days (4 nights SI, 1 Tikal, 2 MPR, and 5 AC), which seemed like the perfect amount of time in each place. The highlights of the trip were definitely the wonderful people and the beautiful scenery. Although it was supposed to be the “rainy season,” the weather was hot and sunny every day. There were some strong downpours at night and one afternoon, but overall the weather was good. In fact, I’m really glad we went in the summer because we never faced crowds and paid lower rates for all our hotels.

Our flight landed at BZE and we had arranged a transfer to San Ignacio through the Aguada hotel for 35 USD per person. Even though we weren’t staying at the hotel, this was the best price I could find. It was great to have someone meet us at the airport, so we were able to immediately head off to San Ignacio. We paid the driver a few extra bucks and stopped at the zoo, which was a very nice introduction to Belize. Dinner that night at Martha’s… very good (huge!) burritos, reasonably priced.

Our room at the San Ignacio hotel was quite nice; not fantastic, but nice, with a small outdoor porch. On our first full day in Belize, we did what was probably the coolest thing I have ever done in my life… the ATM cave tour. I had read quite a lot about this tour before I went, but I still wasn’t prepared for what it would be like. The “wading” through several rivers actually means using every muscle in your body to remain standing as you cross through raging chest-high rivers with very rocky footing. Now, this was during rainy season, so perhaps the water is much lower during other times of the year, but just getting to the cave was somewhat tiring, and the cave itself was also challenging, but wonderful. Because we all had to help each other through the cave, we really bonded with the rest of the people in our group, and we all ended up going out to dinner that night. We started with drinks at Eva’s, then went to the Indian place for dinner. It’s a rather shabby looking restaurant, so I was a little nervous at first, but the food was surprisingly good and pretty reasonably priced.

The next day, we took it much slower and walked around SI in the morning, had a good lunch at Adana’s, then took a cab up to Xunantunich in the afternoon. What’s nice about this site is that it’s not very big, so it’s easy to see everything, plus there were very few people there. We climbed to the top of the main pyramid and just sat up there by ourselves for about an hour… the cool breeze that you get up high was really delightful. A very enjoyable day. For dinner we went to Erva’s, then met up with a few of our friends from the cave tour and went to the Blue Angel, which is like an old time dance hall. There was a beauty pageant in town earlier in the day, so there was a dance to celebrate afterwards. Loud music, lots of bodies dancing wildly, and a very interesting cultural experience.

We had arranged to go cave tubing the next day, again through Mayawalk. This was much less strenuous than the ATM tour and lots of fun. More great people in our group and a really enjoyable day.

The next day it was off to Tikal. I must admit I was a little sad to leave SI. It’s the perfect size town… big enough to have life to it, but small enough that you can really get to know it in just a few days. On our final morning there, we ran into so many people that we had met on our different adventures, it really felt like we were leaving home.

Getting to Tikal took a bit more time, money, and effort than I had anticipated, although the journey was definitely an interesting adventure. First, we took a cab to the border ($5), paid our border fees ($23.75 each), then walked across the bridge where the negotiations for a cab ride began. There are lots of guys who want to take you, but haggling is part of the sport of it. Found a colectivo who said he would take us to Tikal for 60Q. Except the colectivos don’t actually go to Tikal; they go to Flores, but drop you at the crossroads (El Cruce) where you wait for another taxi to take you the rest of the way there (100Q). By the way, all of this is on very bumpy and hot dirt roads so it takes several hours and is not very comfortable. We got to Tikal safely, but it was just not as cheap or easy as I had expected.

We stayed at the Jaguar Inn… not very fancy but the convenience of being in the park was nice. The park itself is fabulous. I feel that we timed it right by getting to Tikal in the afternoon, getting settled and eating lunch, then venturing into the park in the late afternoon (after the heat and the tour busses). We hired a guide who gave us a great overview and the confidence to explore on our own the following day. We climbed to the top of all the pyramids (sore legs!), including the one in El Mundo Perdido to watch the sunset. Beautiful. There was an armed guard on top of the pyramid, and he walked back with the 12 or so of us who stayed for the sunset. I was glad I had my flashlight with me. He was trying to convince everyone to join him for his 4:30 am sunrise tour in the morning, but I’m glad we didn’t get up because the morning was rainy and foggy. We again timed it right by getting up around 6 and heading right into the park. Went to the top of Temple V and sat all by ourselves, listening to the howler monkeys. Then were out of the park by 9, just as the crowds and heat were arriving.

Same taxi route to get back to Belize… bumpity-bump back to El Cruce. Except this time while we’re waiting for our next cab, a car pulls up and asks us which way to Belize. We point him in the right direction, then my friend chimes in, “Wanna take us?” He says sure. Now, I’m a little skeptical, but we’re starting to load our gear into his car. He quickly apologizes for not having more room because he’s a missionary and the sacks of dried milk take up a lot of space in the trunk. Alright, I guess this guy is safe. It turns out to be a very interesting (air-conditioned!) ride with this Portuguese missionary who is working with AIDS patients and drug addicts in BC. Although he doesn’t want to take it, we give him all the quetzales we have left to thank him for his troubles.

Back at the border we haggle for another cab to take us to the Mountain Pine Ridge ($40). More long and bumpy roads, but when we finally arrive at Five Sisters Lodge, it feels like we’ve died and gone to heaven. A very spacious cabana with a screen porch, hammock, and mosquito-netted beds, really feels luxurious after our time in Tikal. After lunch, we spend the afternoon swimming in the refreshing waterfalls. Just lovely. It’s like nature’s Jacuzzi.

The next day started with another relaxing dip under the falls, before we went over to Blancaneaux for massages (we booked the massage and a ride over thru 5 sisters). After all the hiking and climbing we had done, this was really a treat for our sore muscles. We also got to use their small pool, hung out in their delightful gardens, and ate lunch before returning back to 5 sisters for another swim.

Since another couple from the hotel had already arranged a transfer to Belize City, we were able to latch onto their ride for only $15, which was a very good deal. We were dropped at the water taxi, and we hopped right on to arrive at our island paradise, San Pedro. We stayed at Mata Rocks which we really enjoyed. It is a small hotel that has a nice beach area and is removed from the noise of town, but within a reasonable walk. The best part of the hotel is the outdoor bar where everyone gathers for happy hour and trades stories of the day’s activities. What I really liked about Mata Rocks was that you could really get to know other people if you wanted to (we made quite a few new friends), but it was also the kind of place where you could remain more private if you chose to.

The two best activities we did in San Pedro were a reef fishing trip and a catamaran trip. Both trips included 2 snorkel stops and were arranged through the hotel. Neither of us normally fish, but we caught lots of snapper (as well as 2 lobsters while snorkeling) which our guide cooked for us for lunch. Delicious. The catamaran trip went to Caye Caulker where we had a couple of hours to get lunch and walk around. I’m glad I got to see the charm of Caye Caulker, but I must say I’m glad I didn’t stay there for the sole reason that it was incredibly hot. It must be the way the island is situated because San Pedro catches a delightful breeze, but the air was still on CC. Perhaps it’s different at other times of year? Our favorite dinner in San Pedro was at El Patio, but we had lots of good food other places too and ate lobster as much as possible.

Overall, it was a fbulous trip. I'm glad we did the more adventurous locations first and were then able to relax for the second half of the trip. This forum really helped me plan it well; thanks to everyone who contributed!
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Old Sep 24th, 2005, 02:34 PM
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Thanks for the great report. We were in Belize in May, and I'm still kicking myself for not going on the ATM tour while we were in San Ignacio. We're heading back to Belize the end of February, but are heading to Tobacco Caye and San Pedro. One of these trips we'll make it back to San Ignacio. Thanks again for the great report.
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Old Sep 24th, 2005, 03:11 PM
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Superb trip report!

--Lan Sluder
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Old Sep 24th, 2005, 07:32 PM
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Yes, great trip report!
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Old Sep 25th, 2005, 07:51 AM
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Great report! Just wonerding where you did the cave tubing tour; who'd you book with, length of tour.....would you recommend it?
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Old Sep 25th, 2005, 05:44 PM
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We booked both the ATM and cave tubing tour through Mayawalk and were very happy with them. The cave tubing was at Jaguar Paw and went through a series of caves. It was a full day trip... I think we left around 8 am and got back around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. It was lots of fun. Go if you have the chance!
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Old Oct 27th, 2005, 08:21 PM
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How far is Jaguar Paw from San Ignacio approximately? I am going to Blancaneaux in January & just heard about Jauguar Paw..interested in possibly going for a couple days before we head out to San Pedro.
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Old Oct 28th, 2005, 09:31 AM
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Jaguar Paw is about 35 miles from San Ignacio. You turn at Mile 37 of the Western Highway and then go a few miles on a dirt road.

--Lan Sluder
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